Kildare and Leitrim eager to learn from silver-lined lessons
KILDARE and Leitrim may look like two football teams who are a world apart, operating at either ends of the spectrum when the Allianz League begins next weekend.
But they actually have quite a lot in common, including their next step, which is to ensure that the celebrations that accompanied their early-season silverware last Sunday are not the summit of their achievements in 2014.
A year ago they both also got off to a flying start, and retaining the O'Byrne Cup and FBD title respectively last Sunday was a boost but, after 2013, no one knows better how the wheels can come careering off if you're not careful.
Kildare's came off in alarming style in the Leinster championship last summer despite such a promising run in Division 1. In the first three weeks they'd taken the scalps of the reigning All-Ireland champions (Donegal) plus Cork and Kerry.
The first blip was a pasting by Dublin (2-20 to 2-7) but they recovered by pipping Mayo by a point, and though they subsequently lost to Tyrone and Down, they had already reached the Division 1 semi-finals.
Once there they lost to Tyrone (by four points) who have become quite a bogey team for them but were consoled that manager Kieran McGeeney had shaken things up by using the league to blood a lot of their U-21s.
Even though they only beat Offaly by four points in their championship opener there was still a belief that their new injection of youth and pace could put it up to the Dubs.
Four weeks later Dublin's superior power and pace carved them apart in the Leinster final on a 4-16 to 1-9 scoreline.
After beating Louth in the qualifiers they came a cropper to Tyrone, again, despite home advantage, and a couple of months later the county was embroiled in huge controversy over whether McGeeney should be re-appointed for a seventh season.
He lost out by a single vote in what proved to be the most ignominious and divisive end to a year that had started so brightly.
Leitrim may operate three divisions down but their trajectory in 2013 was something similar. After being hit badly by emigration they got their best panel together to reach the FBD final, where they had the temerity to beat Sligo in the shadow of Ben Bulben.
It was their first trophy since their Connacht title in 1994 yet captain Emlyn Mulligan said he'd swap it for two points in their tough away league opener to Limerick and his comments proved prescient.
Life in Division 4 is always a dogfight and within two rounds Leitrim were licking their wounds.
They lost to Limerick by two points and to Clare by three, and while they went on to beat Carlow and Waterford, they also lost to Tipperary and Offaly.
Their summer started brightly with a romp past New York but then things went badly awry.
Joint-managers Barney Breen and George Dugdale dropped four players for disciplinary reasons, a decision that divided opinion and came back to haunt them when playmaker and top-scorer Mulligan got injured and only lasted 15 minutes of both of their Connacht semi-finals against London.
Losing to the ever-improving Exiles in a replay was no disgrace but what followed – conceding 8-13 to Armagh in Carrick – was.
Like Kildare, Leitrim return with a new manager now and have most of their best men back on board.
Jason Ryan (below), the former Wexford manager whom McGeeney had brought in as a selector last year, is no stranger to his players but former Longford player and selector Sean Hagan, who managed Leitrim club Kiltubrid to a first county senior title, is a newcomer to inter-county management.
As Hagan observed, winning silverware always boosts players' self-belief, but losing any of the first two rounds of the league will soon take the lustre off those early-season trophies.